A Circle of Wives: A Novel

A Circle of Wives: A Novel

by Alice LaPlante

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From the New York Times–bestselling author of Half Moon Bay. “Marriage is as mysterious as murder in LaPlante’s captivating psychological thriller” (People).
  • An Indie Next Pick
  • A LibraryReads Selection
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Mysteries & Thrillers)
  • A Daily Candy Best Book of March
  • One of More magazine’s “Five Thrillers Not to Read After Dark”
When Dr. John Taylor turns up dead in a hotel room, the local police uncover enough incriminating evidence to suspect foul play. Det. Samantha Adams, whose Palo Alto beat usually covers petty crimes, is innocently thrown into a high-profile case that is more complicated than any she has faced before.
A renowned reconstructive surgeon and a respected family man, Dr. Taylor was beloved and admired. But beneath his perfect façade was a hidden life—in fact, multiple lives. Dr. Taylor was married to three very different women in three separate cities. As the circumstances surrounding his death emerge, Detective Adams finds herself tracking down a murderer through a tangled web of marital deception and revenge. New York Times–bestselling author Alice LaPlante’s haunting and complex novel of family secrets dissects—with scalpel-like agility—the intricacies of desire and commitment, trust and jealousy.
“Exhilarating and smart, A Circle of Wive is a wild ride of love, loss, marriage and murder, with a finale that’s provocative, thrilling and grand. It all shows that while some deaths are a mystery, so, too, are some loves.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802192745
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 325
Sales rank: 35,704
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Alice LaPlante is an award-winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She teaches creative writing at Stanford University, where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer. She also teaches in the MFA program at San Francisco State University. Her fiction has been widely published in Epoch, Southwestern Review, and other literary journals. Alice is the author of six books, including the LA Times bestseller Method and Madness: The Making of a Story (W.W. Norton 2009). Her first novel, Turn of Mind, was a New York Times , NPR, and American Independent Booksellers Association bestseller, won the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, and was named a New York Times and Booklist Editors’ Choice and a #1 IndieNextPick. She lives with her family in Northern California. Author website: alicelaplante.com

Read an Excerpt



I AM NOTHING IF NOT irresolute. Excuse the double negative. What I mean to say is that there is little I won't waver over. You know how squirrels flirt with death by the roadside, and how some actually lose their heads and rush into traffic to their doom? I had to give up riding my bike around campus as an undergraduate because of those damn squirrels. They'd make a dash for my tires, and if I would just hold firm and keep going, chances were good they'd scamper back to safety. But if they'd freak, I'd freak, and the result was too many crashes, too many injuries. I walked everywhere my junior and senior years. So. A waverer I am.

Peter and I are at Cook's Seafood Store on El Camino. We're warmly greeted as we walk in. I love this place because the men behind the counter — all men, a variety of ages between twenty and seventy — look so happy to be there. I believe the word to describe them is fishmongers. Such a lovely word. And apparently a lovely place to work, as most of them have been there for decades. I like the way they closely attend to customers describing their dinner plans, how they take the time to think before suggesting the exact number of shrimp for a party of four, the precise weight of ahi tuna for six. No, they can't recommend the mackerel; it's a bit spongy today. Then, after placing the slabs of raw fish or the handfuls of shellfish on the scale, they wrap the purchases in crisp white paper as carefully as if they were the most special of birthday gifts. The taking of money appears a casual afterthought; the real business of the place is in the human interactions. If I were lonely, here is where I would come for solace.

The store is crowded, but we're patient. They know what we want, and sure enough, there's a wink and a broad smile from Eddie today, and out comes a beautiful specimen of smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, that Peter has been seeking for quite some time. The fact that I use the words beautiful and smelt together in a sentence shows what living with Peter has done to me. As usual, Peter jingles the coins in his pocket and as usual Eddie waves him off. Peter is a scientist, an anthropologist, or, to be strictly honest, an academic wannabe. His doctoral dissertation involves researching the diets of the indigenous peoples of the San Francisco Bay area. He spent all last summer across the bay at the Emeryville Shellmound, wallowing thigh deep in what they now know is a toxic swamp. He will take this tiny smelt home and dehydrate it, carefully preserving the skeleton, and use it as a model to draw in his workbook. I'm wild about his meticulous sketches of these dried carcasses. For pleasure I often go leafing through the pages of his dissertation notes, and for my birthday I requested to have two of my favorites copied and framed. He thought I was kidding. But no. The delicate renderings of the fragile structures truly delight me. God is in those bones.

So here's where we are: Together almost ten years after we met in freshman rhetoric and I helped him understand the difference between its and it's and which and that. We became instantly inseparable, although I hesitated to call myself committed. It's not a word I would use, ever, to describe myself. Now, a decade later, Peter is still in school, and I'm still wavering. I wavered my way from an undergraduate degree in history into a quickly terminated semester of law school, then into a master's program in education and then less than a full term teaching eighth-grade social studies in nearby Portola Valley, recently rated the second richest town in America by Time magazine.

And here's something else you should know about me. In addition to being irresolute, I'm also a quitter. I'm not ashamed. I find that it often takes more courage to stop doing something you despise than to continue blindly along the wrong path. You usually save yourself, and others, a lot of grief by acknowledging your failure and moving on. But walking out on those kids — entitled spawn of venture capitalists and software magnates that they were — in the middle of the day, in the middle of the term was wrong. Plain wrong. The thing was, I couldn't have not done it. Another double negative. But seriously. If I'd had to spend another minute in that beautifully appointed classroom overlooking the rolling hills of the San Francisco Peninsula's richest real estate, I would have slit my wrists. Peter, reasonably enough, asked me whether I'd feel more ... useful ... teaching inner city kids. But the point wasn't that I felt useless. I'm not sure what the point was, except I got the same kind of choked-up-difficult-to-breathe feeling that had been the breaking point in Sam Adams's (yours truly) legal career misadventure. No beer jokes, please, I've heard them all.

I stumbled into my current situation, like I stumble into everything. About four years ago, Peter and I were living on Curtner in a dismal two-bedroom apartment. I'd just quit teaching. Peter was finishing up his master's. Palo Alto doesn't have many streets that aren't safe, but Curtner is one of them. Do a search of the California Sexual Predator's online database, and all the little red dots congregate around Curtner — about the only area in town where a sexual predator wouldn't be kicked out five minutes after he moved in. I'll say this about Curtner: People were tolerant. Well, I was back to using my bike after a four-year hiatus — depended on it, in fact, to get around as my car had died and I didn't have the money to fix it — and so was mad as hell when someone sawed through the heavy chain I'd specially purchased and made off with my ride. I loved that bike, had viewed it as my vehicle of liberation. An antidote to my stint as a teacher of the privileged.

My fit of rage over the theft propelled me onto a bus downtown and into police headquarters. I was given a form by a bored clerk and began filling it out despite the fact that my bike was probably worth less than two hundred dollars and therefore the report wouldn't be considered worth anyone's time. Then I saw the notice, tacked on the bulletin board. The police department was hiring. All that was required was an undergraduate degree and a clean record.

As it turned out, they mainly needed bodies to patrol the Stanford campus and try to prevent the kids from doing anything too dangerous. I tend to interview well, so that part was easy. They also gave me an aptitude test, and I passed with flying colors. Apparently my whole life I've been aching to lay down the law — not in the courtroom, but in the streets. It figures. I tend to be a little prissy about rules.

I know about as much as anyone what kind of bad things good kids can get up to, and I have a lot of tolerance for the undergraduate age group. This made me fairly popular on campus, and I gained a reputation as a trustworthy person among all parties. Surprisingly, the work suited me. I liked the camaraderie at the station house. I wasn't scared of drunk freshmen, even if they were bigger than me. I didn't mind getting yelled at or wept on. I had more trouble coping with the suicide-minded kids and the violent crimes — we generally had one or two sexual assaults on campus per quarter. But I found I had a cool head and sufficient authority to handle even these difficult cases, and so the first year passed rather quickly and satisfactorily. After that, three more years whooshed by. Then, just when I was beginning to think I had gotten into a rut, a detective position opened up. It offered a bigger paycheck, which sounded pretty good to me. But it was also a chance to get out of the itchy uniform into some comfortable clothes and use my brain. I'd begun to stagnate, to stink, even, with what was getting dangerously close to boredom. Again interviews. Again the aptitude test. A bunch of tedious training. And I got the promotion. Detective Samantha Adams. But everyone calls me Sam.

So it's about 1 PM on a sunny May day. We've just gotten home from Cook's — home being the smallest rental house in Palo Alto — and kick off our shoes. Peter is about to make a pot of his world-famous veggie chili when I get a call.

I put my shoes back on.

"What's up?" Peter comes out of the kitchen. He looks sad. Our schedules don't always sync, and Saturdays are supposed to be sacred.

"Someone croaked over at the Westin," I say. I'm still in a bit of shock.

Peter groans. "Can't it wait?" "No. This is serious. I need to meet Jake and the county's CSI team there." Jake is the Santa Clara County medical examiner. "Mollie says it looks suspicious."

"So?" Peter asks.

"So, what I'm saying is that this might be an actual murder. In Palo Alto."

I couldn't have picked a more tranquil town to play cops and robbers. Palo Alto is an upscale university town about thirty-five miles south of San Francisco. Peter likes to tease me by reading out loud at the breakfast table the "Weekly Crime Watch" section of the Daily News. East Palo Alto and Redwood City get their share of drug busts and even shootings, but here we mostly issue tickets for barking dogs — a Palo Alto canine has fallen afoul of the law if it barks for more than ten minutes — and pick up intoxicated homeless people, to whom we give a meal and a place to dry out before releasing them back onto the streets.

I pull my new Toyota — recently financed by my promotion money — into the Westin's circular drive off El Camino, and park it in a no parking zone. When a doorman gestures to hurry me along I show him my badge and he, suddenly gracious, opens the door for me. I'm still not quite used to this — the deference shown to me as an officer of the law. Although sometimes, of course, I get the opposite reaction: impudence or scorn, especially given my small stature and the fact that I'm a very young-looking twenty-eight years old. At least, when wearing the uniform, people believed I was an officer. In street clothes, even when I show my badge, some people openly express their doubts about my authority. I've had both men and women reach out and pat my head when I'm in the middle of questioning or even issuing a warning. Mortifying.

The Westin has been open less than a year, and although situated right off campus, I've never had cause to visit it before. They'd hardly find many reasons to call in the police. Mostly the hotel is frequented by well-heeled Silicon Valley types. The lobby is full of them when I arrive, milling around with cups of Starbucks and carrying binders that say EQUIS RESEARCH in bright red block letters. A placard proclaims High Tech Investments: A New Paradigm for Risk Assessments. Just another chance for the haves to help themselves to more.

I look for stairs, but none are obvious so I do something I hate, which is to take an elevator to the second floor. Once I exit the elevator car, signs indicate that room 224 is to my right. Deep plush piled carpet. Elegant gold-leafed tables holding elaborate bouquets of flowers, implausibly fresh and blooming — so implausibly that I surreptitiously pinch off a bright red blossom. I bring the flower to my nose. Real. Incredibly sweet, almost nauseating. Then I turn the corner and bump into a crowd gathered in front of room 224. I drop the flower and kick it to the side, hoping no one notices. The two cops guarding the door, Mollie and Henry, wave me through. I recognize Jake, a slight, balding man in his forties, kneeling on the floor over the body of a heavyset man dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt, newish-looking sneakers on his feet. The body is on its side. A violent red contusion mars the forehead, and blood is spattered across the man's cotton top. Behind Jake, a woman armed with a large camera and with an official badge hanging around her neck is photographing the area around the body. Two men, also with badges, are carefully filing away plastic evidence bags. I assume that they, like Jake, are from Santa Clara County. They've got a CSI Crime Lab there. We don't even have a photographer on our staff. At crime or accident scenes we use our phones to take photos.

One of the cops guarding the room is Mollie, a new hire — the officer who called me. The other is her more seasoned partner Henry. Mollie seems a bit ill, but is doing a valiant job keeping what appears to be the hotel manager — he's wearing a suit and a name tag — and a couple of women, also wearing name tags, from getting inside the room. They are pressed up as close as they can get, though, trying to get a clear view of Jake and the body. A Latina woman in a housekeeper's uniform is standing off by herself. I push past them.

"It looks like he hit his head on the corner of the dresser when he went down," says Jake, throwing me a pair of rubber gloves. We've worked together just once before. Last month, in fact. A homeless man had stepped in front of a car on University Avenue, the only other death I've had to deal with since I'd made detective. Open-and-shut case.

"What caused him to fall?"

"That's the question," Jake says. "I'm thinking heart attack. This fella doesn't seem like he hit the gym very often. Although he may have died from striking the dresser here. There's a lot of blood, but head wounds tend to be bloody."

"Any ID?"

Henry hands me a wallet. Even I can recognize that it's damn fine leather, there's a buttery sheen to it that my fake leather purse could never aspire to. I begin pulling out cards. "John Taylor," I read off a Visa then find a driver's license in the same name. The always-unflattering DMV photo made this John Taylor look tired and somewhat older than his sixty-two years. A reddish, corpulent face. Nice head of hair, though, for his age. I find a Stanford University Medical Center ID.

"He's a quack," I say. "John Taylor, of Stanford Hospitals and Clinics. A fat doctor. Go figure."

"What makes you think he was a doctor? Lots of people work over at the hospital, he could be a nurse, a technician, an orderly ..."

"Yeah, but how many of them can afford a room at the Westin? Besides, it states it right here on his ID: Dr. John Taylor."

Jake is frowning.

"What is it?" I ask. I've been careful not to stare directly at the body. I'm not particularly squeamish about blood, but I haven't been in the presence of too many dead people.

"I'm seeing other signs of trauma. Unless this guy was in a bar fight recently, he's got some 'splaining to do. See?" Jake shows me an ugly raised bruise on the upper right arm.

"Seems like someone pummeled him."

"And here." On the left shoulder, another bruise.

The manager tries to step forward at this point, but is pushed back by Mollie.

"Officer," he says to me.


"Detective, I should tell you that this man checked in under another name. As Jonathan Tinley."

One of the women with him speaks. "I was the one who registered him. He paid cash, so I didn't ask for ID."

"You didn't do anything wrong," I tell her, then add, remembering my training, "and neither did he. There's nothing wrong with staying at a hotel anonymously. Wanting privacy isn't a crime." When Peter and I go on our low-budget vacations, he delights in giving ludicrous names when we check into the Motel 6. Mr. and Mrs. Tiny Thumb. Rapunzel and Vice Chancellor Charming. He's still a boy, really, that Peter.

"Depends on what he wanted the privacy for," says Jake, still kneeling on the floor over the body. "And cash in a place like this?"

"How much do the rooms cost?" I ask.

"The rates fluctuate depending on demand, but mostly four hundred dollars plus a night," says the manager. "We rarely have cash customers, so Emma actually remarked upon it to me when she ended her shift. Apparently, he pulled out four one-hundred-dollar bills."

"How long was his stay with you?"

"Just last night."

"Who found him?"

"Rosa," says the manager, and points to the woman in uniform. "One of the maids. Our checkout time is 11 AM. She knocked on the door at noon, and when she didn't get an answer, let herself in."

Jake makes a noise. I turn to him.

"Here's something else. On the upper back." He stretches the neck of the T-shirt to expose the man's shoulder.

I lean over and squint where he is pointing. I can't see anything. Jesus, this man has one hairy body. On the whole, I like furry men. But this is almost grotesque. Underneath the hair the skin is mottled red and white.

"It's small, but it's there," says Jake. "A slight puncture. Like a hypodermic needle would make. Can't you tell? The small hole with the raised flesh around it?"

I squint again, but shrug. "If you say so."


Excerpted from "A Circle of Wives"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Alice LaPlante.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Circle of Wives 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
Dr John Taylor, renowned plastic surgeon, is found dead in a hotel room and small town Detective Samantha Adams gets put on the case.  What seems to be an open and shut case, until it is discovered that he has three wives in three cities.  Detective Samantha Adams finds herself having to go through a web of lies and marital problems.  My Review: A Circle of Wives is told from the point of view of four main characters.   Each of the wives and Detective Samantha all get their own chapters to tell the story from their point of views.   The way this was written the reader was able to get the different sides of what happen and compare the stories.   I truly enjoyed getting to know each character so well.  In this style I was able to relate easier and understand why each woman was so blind to Dr. Taylor’s polygamist lifestyle.   I was also able to draw conclusions as to who might have murdered their husband and why.  Although, I cannot say that I knew who done it until the very end of the book. Alice LaPlante wrote an excellent murder mystery that kept me having to read.  She left me guessing at whom the real killer was and cheering Detective Sam on.    Each chapter had suspense and kept me entertained.   This is the first book that I have read of Alice LaPlantes.   I am positive that I will be looking for more from this wonderful author. 
Twink More than 1 year ago
I loved Alice LaPlante's award winning debut novel - Turn of Mind. It was a mystery told through the eyes of woman in the clutches of Alzheimer's disease. Her newest book A Circle of Wives is another mystery that keeps us guessing. Who is telling the truth? Who can be believed? Renowned and wealthy surgeon Dr. John Taylor is found dead of an apparent heart attack. But when an autopsy reveals suggestions of foul play, the case is handed over to Detective Samantha Adams. This is her first serious case. The immediate suspect is of course the person closest to the victim - in this case, Taylor's wife Deborah. Or perhaps it's his other wife MJ? When a newspaper runs a story on the doctor's death, that's when MJ discovers Taylor's bigamy. And then a third wife pops up. "What's going on is the inaugural meeting of John Taylor's spouses, says Deborah. Would we qualify as a coven? A harem? What is the term for a group of wives? Circle. We are a circle of wives." Was it one of his wives who ended Dr. Taylor's life? Which one of them hated Taylor enough to kill him? Did one of the wives suspect he had more than one spouse? LaPlante tells her story from the viewpoint of each of the wives as well as Samantha, the detective. LaPlante has written an excellent mystery. But just as good are the character studies of each main player. They all have reasons to want John dead and each has their own secrets to keep. LaPlante fleshes them out, leaving us to ponder just which one of them is capable of murder and cunning enough to get away with it. I quite liked Samantha as a protagonist. Her struggle to be taken seriously, her dogged determination and her own personal life provided a great secondary story line. Another thoroughly enjoyable read from LaPlante.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
One of the hottest selling books in recent years, “Gone Girl”, tells the story of a bad marriage, a missing wife and husband suspected of killing her. For fans of “Gone Girl”, there are three recent novels that tread similar ground- that of bad marriages, with elements of murder and psychological twists. They have some similarities- two feature physician husbands, two feature therapist wives, and all three have psychologically damaged people. Alice LaPlante’s “Circle of Wives” tells the story of a celebrated pediatric plastic surgeon found dead in a hotel room. At his funeral, it is discovered that he has three wives.  His first wife lives in the big home and spends her time on charitable works. She is one tough manicured-to-the-teeth cookie, and we come to discover that not only did she know about the other wives, she carefully orchestrated her husband’s complicated life. The second wife got out of a bad marriage and headed west with her two young sons. She became an accountant, and she and her doctor husband lived a quiet life, tending to their peaceful backyard garden. The third wife is a pediatric oncologist, who spent little time with her husband, but understood because his practice was in another city hours away. She was a quiet, disciplined woman who gave so much of her life to her work, she never thought she’d marry. “Circle of Wives” is the most traditional mystery of the three novels, a real whodunit.The writing is crisp and the characters are well written, (especially wife #1) much like LaPlante’s previous novel “Turn of Mind”. Once again, she will keep you guessing to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a good story told in an interesting way. The different narrators moved the story along at a nice pace. I was not liking the way the mystery was shaping up but the twist at the end made it work. This was my first book by this author - it will not be the last
Anonymous 12 days ago
The struc ture didn't work for me, and the boyfriend character wasn't very well fleshed out. I found the ending abrupt, as if the author got tired of the story and just wanted to be done with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So mouch
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interestingly told with a different premise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable to read. Love the short chapters. Disappointed that the character Joyce was written as Cecilia for a total of four times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She changes a character's name from Joyce to Cecelia, character only in one chapter; first thought it was another character-typos and errors like this annoy me and tend to make the book less enjoyable
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This has to be one of the most boring books I have ever had the misfortune to buy for my nook! What a waste of $$$$$!!!!!! Avoid this no matter what!!!!!!!!!!!! Wish I could have given less than 1 star!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this book tremendously. The characters were well developed and interesting.
anonomas More than 1 year ago
This is a very strange book. The author doesn't seem to know where she wants to go.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Are you kidding ....no book is worth $25.00
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cannot believe anyone thought this book was worthy for publication. The characters were unlikable and dreary, the plot thin and not fully developed, and the ending was ridiculous. I was a waste of time and money. I will not read La Plante again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with the other reviewer that the book was a ridiculous waste of time! I finished reading and did not understand the meaning of the last paragraph at al!l
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Totally stupid and waste of time reading such drivel with the murderer confessing all apparently "off the record" at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Uh. Nothing just random talk ^_^"